It was the best of times, but for me it's about to become the worst of times. I'm going to utter a blasphemy so foul, so unholy, that BBS will not only ban me, he will attack the SB Nation servers with a giant magnet just to erase any trace that I ever existed on these boards. Have mercy on me, gods of football, for what I am about to say:
I wish that Tony Dungy was a little more like Bill Belichick.
I don't wish for Tony to be a cheater like Belichick, or a sore loser like Belichick, or a cut-off-hoodie fashion disaster like Belichick. But when it dawned on me that the Pats were going for it on fourth-and-two with 2:08 to play on their own 28, with a game-winning first down in sight and Peyton Manning waiting for a chance to shatter their dreams, for that brief moment I wished that Tony had borrowed Bill's solid brass cojones for just one series on January 3, 2009.
Let me explain before you burn me at the stake:
January 3, 2009.
Colts versus Chargers at San Diego, because 8-8 teams definitely deserve a home playoff game. Fourth quarter, Colts lead 17-14. Chargers are getting desperate to score something, anything, but all quarter long the Colts D has held on and kept them out of the red zone. Things are looking grim for SD when Rivers is sacked on third down with just over three minutes left to play, when suddenly! In the best play of a brilliant night for Mike Scifres, his punt pins the Colts at their own 1-yard line! The SD crowd goes nuts. They smell blood if their D can come up with just one more stop.
On first and second down the rock goes to Addai. He picks up 6 yards and 2 yards, not enough for the first down but enough breathing room for Peyton to work. The Chargers burn their last timeout at the 2:30 mark. Just one more first down and the Colts can run out the clock.
No dice. Peyton is sacked out of the shotgun right back at the 1-yard line. Now at fourth-and-ten the Colts are looking at a nasty punting situation to have any chance of holding on for the win. Or are they? Freeze frame.
Talk about the last place in the world you want to punt. Normally a punter lines up 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Here, you've barely got 10 yards. There's no time to line up a fancy directional punt toward the sideline. All you can do is get that thing out of there before the punt blocking team tears your head off. To make matters worse, you're punting to Darren Fucking Sproles who has been absolutely torching you for huge returns all night long. Even if he has a (relatively) bad return, are you really going to stop him before he gets to midfield?
What if there was another way? What if you could move up to the 20-yard line and kick it away free and clear with nobody trying to dismember you? Can you guess where I'm going with this?
Yes, a safety. Snap that bitch right out the back of the endzone, spot the Chargers two points and take the free kick. Madness, you say? Sproles still has a chance to kill you and everything that you love, you say? Perhaps. But if you can kick it to the 15-yard line, Sproles can have a "mediocre" 25-yard return and still be further back than you were likely to stop him when punting from the 1. Ask Philip Rivers if he wants to roll up an extra 10 or 15 yards with no timeouts and see what he tells you.
Alas, it was not to be. Tony figured, rightly, that even if the Chargers managed a field goal it would still only tie the game and leave the Colts a good chance to win in overtime. Hunter Smith did get off a booming 62-yard kick but unfortunately with the entire punting team devoted to making sure it didn't get blocked there was nobody even close to stop Sproles from running it 26 yards to the Colts' 38. Even if the D hadn't given up a single additional yard it's not crazy to think that the Chargers could have kicked the tying FG from right there. Fast forward to overtime, lose the coin toss, the D has nothing left in the tank, and the Colts are done for the season.
I know that this post is batshit crazy.
If you wanted to find out why I'll never be a football coach, now you know. Punting is sane. Punting is smart. Punting in this situation is absolutely the best way to not lose the football game. The trouble is, sometimes when you play to "not lose" you end up losing anyway.
A safety was the best chance to win, to keep the Chargers from scoring at all. A safety would have been saying, "Screw overtime and screw your coin toss. We're taking this game right now and getting the hell out of here." Not exactly, of course, I mean I'm pretty sure Tony doesn't say "screw" unless he's in a hardware store, but you get the idea. Don't hope for the best in OT, finish the game now!
Would Belichick have run it any differently? Would the Colts still have lost anyway? Who knows? All I know is that I felt an icepick tapping on my guts Sunday night the instant I realized that the Pats were taking one more shot to put away the game right then and there. It might have been arrogant or disrespectful or just plain mean, but Bill knew his team could seal the win with just one more play, so he went for it. And in that moment, I wished that Bill Belichick had taken control of Tony Dungy's brain for just two minutes of that heartbreaking game in January.
Okay, you can light the bonfire now. Gods of football, have mercy on my soul.